World Cup fever seeping into Japan’s consciousness

Joseph’s side have serious momentum for the defining Yokohama clash with Scots

Japan’s wing Kotaro Matsushima scores a try against Samoa during the Pool A victory for the hosts at the City of Toyota Stadium. Japan now have an eight-day rest before a huge game against Scotland. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

Japan 38 Samoa 19

Jamie Joseph sits upon the throne. It’s the intimidating frame of this former All Black and Japan flanker that makes him so convincing. The no-nonsense Kiwi squawk, his acerbic wit, all welcoming Scottish flies into the Yokohama web.

Joseph’s physical and personality traits combine to embrace whatever comes next. It makes him the ideal Japan leader and woe betide any media parasite who dares to rattle his Brave Blossoms from their pure flow.

“I got to put everybody straight,” said the 49-year-old. “We have a really awesome opportunity to do something that has never been done before, and that’s exciting. A week ago no one thought we could win a game against Ireland and now everyone thinks we can win every game, so that’s how silly it is. In one week.


“Our players understand what is going on. We will be going out there without the fear of losing.”

Joseph’s eyes blacken before he shuts down a question for new captain Lappies Labuschagne. Come at me, not my men. War footing is permanent now.

“It was always going to come down the final game against Scotland. So it’s revving up to be a real ripper. I can’t wait. I know the players can’t wait. We have been subconsciously thinking about it for a couple of years now.”

Each prime-time event will never be forgotten by an ever increasing amount of the 127 million curious Japanese. This was a historic night for the sport of rugby in Asia. It’s official: World Cup fever has seeped into the Nippon consciousness.

World Rugby talk about cracking the US market, about the status quo changing forever, but we are witnessing an explosion in popularity.

Only Gregor Townsend’s Scots can stop Japan’s climb to the top table.

Jaco Peyper will have no part in this. The South African referee penalised a Samoa scrum five metres from their try line deep in injury time for a blatantly crooked feed by reserve scrumhalf Pele Cowley.

“The opposition did exactly the same as us in the next scrum,” said a visibly angry Samoa coach Steve Jackson. “They get away with it. Sometimes I scratch my head.”

Japan, with Toyota City motoring behind them, packed down to eventually sling shot national hero Kotaro Matsushima over for what may prove a vital bonus point.

So, Pool A goes down to the wire. Victory puts Japan top of Ireland’s group on 14 points, three clear of Joe Schmidt’s men, with one match still to play. Scotland are expected to face them on October 13th with 10 points, presuming they take a bonus win off Russia. Ireland face Samoa in Fukuoka on October 12th.

Awful stress

The bulging crowd was a sight to behold. With 23 minutes clocked, after Yu Tamura put the hosts into a 9-6 lead, they awoke from restless slumber, producing the same roar that burned Irish ears in Shizuoka.

Matsushima, taking up the challenge laid down by Springbok sensation Cheslin Kolbe – this is the World Cup of mosquito wingers – began to sting at every opportunity. Sale Sharks openside TJ Ioane’s desperately irresponsible late tackle on him put the other 14 Samoans under awful stress for 10 minutes.

Japan sensed the opportunity and attacked from every imaginable angle.

Michael Leitch continued his ex-Captain Invincible role by ripping ball clean from the opposition ruck. Matsushima bounced up, after being grounded by two huge Samoans, only to be held inches shy of the line. After some ferocious exchanges the try that lit the torch was finished by Samoan-born centre Timothy Lafaele.

But Japan’s joy at the breakdown against Ireland had disappeared.

Three of the first four penalties were a reward for Samoan muscle over the ball as Henry Taefu showed a steely nerve off the kicking tee.

This was Test match rugby. Taefu inched Samoa back into the contest with his fourth penalty, from five attempts, early in the second half, just as Ioane returned.

Moments after Tamura’s first miss the short-stop turned outhalf atoned to make it 19-12 on 51 minutes. That’s when Joseph unleashed Tongan props on the Samoans. The pay off was instantaneous as number eight Kazuki Himeno was driven over by a flawless lineout maul.

The bonus point seemed impossible at this juncture but Japan are the hardest working people on earth, from dawn ’til dusk, and they refused to give Samoa the final say. Following Taefu’s 73rd minute try, the poster boy Number 23 Kenki Fukuoka scrabbled over in the corner.

There wasn’t enough time for a fourth try but Peyper made the big and correct, if persnickety, call. Japan accepted the gift and with eight days rest until facing Scotland – who have a treacherous four day turnaround – they’ll be ready for what promises to be a game for the ages in Yokohama. By then Ireland will have ceded control of their World Cup fate.

Scoring sequence - 3 mins: Y Tamura pen, 3-0; 7 mins: Y Tamura pen, 6-0; 9 mins: H Taefu pen, 6-3; 15 mins: H Taefu pen, 6-6; 23 mins: Y Tamura pen, 9-6; 24 mins: T Lafaele try, 14-6; Y Tamura con, 16-6; 34 mins: H Taefu pen, 16-9. Half-time. 44 mins: T Taefu pen, 16-12; 51 mins: Y Tamura pen, 19-12; 53 mins: K Himeno try, 24-12; Y Timura con, 26-12; 72 mins: H Taefu try, 26-17; H Taefu con, 26-19; 75 mins: K Fukuoka try, 31-19; 80+5 mins: K Matsushima try, 36-19; Y Tamura con, 38-19

JAPAN: Ryohei Yamanaka; Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lemeki; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare; Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Koo; Wimpie van der Walt, James Moore; Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne (capt), Kazuki Himeno. Replacements: Shota Horie for Sakate (41 mins), Asaeli Ai Valu for Koo, Isileli Nakajima for Inagaki (both 51 mins), Kenki Fukuoka for Yamanaka (56 mins), Fumiaki Tanaka for Nagare, Hendrik Tui for Leitch (both 63 mins), Uwe Helu for Wimpie van der Walt (67 mins), Rikiya Matsuda for Nakamura (69 mins).

SAMOA: Tim Nanai-Williams; Ah See Tuala, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow; Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao; Jordan Lay, Seilala Lam, Michael Alaalatoa; Piula Faasalele, Kane Le'aupepe; Chris Vui, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam (capt). Replacements: Kieron Fonotia for Nanai-Williams (39 mins), Tusi Pisi for See Tuala (53 mins), Ray Niuia for S Lam, Paul Alo-Emile for Alaalatoa (both 56 mins), Senio Toleafoa for Faasalele (60 mins), James Lay for Jordan Lay, Pele Cowley for Polataivao (both 65 mins), Josh Tyrell for Ioane (69 mins). Yellow: TJ Ioane (24-34 mins)

Referee: Jaco Peyper (RSA).